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Future Agenda tackles top problems of the coming decade

Sunrise FutureAn initiative being described as the world’s first “open foresight programme” aims to connect top thinkers around the globe to tackle many of the most pressing problems facing society in the coming decade.

The Future Agenda, which is being sponsored by Vodafone, has just published some of its first insights based on a series of workshops and initial discussions. Among the subjects taken on are: authenticity, choice, cities, connectivity, currency, data, energy, food, health, identity, migration, money, transport, waste, water and work.

Further discussions are set to continue over the next six months, with opinion leaders taking part in workshops across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Anyone who is interested in the topics being discussed can also offer comments in various sections of the Future Agenda’s website.

The consultation period for the programme will close in April 2010 and the results will be analysed and published, with conclusions and recommendations, in July 2010. All those who participate in the programme will also have access to the original data.

“All organisations need to gain clearer, richer and more informed views of the future so that they can place more intelligent choices in terms of business strategy and innovation focus,” said Nick Jeffrey, CEO of Vodafone Group Enterprise. “This can no longer be achieved in isolation.”

“The Future Agenda is an open foresight programme which crosses many frontiers and, because all participants are free to use the material as a source for ongoing research, it provides a unique way to generate and share insight,” said Tim Jones, principle of the Future Agenda. “The initial views, such as the introduction of an Asian Euro and the future reduction of choice, are provoking significant discussion already.”

The Future Agenda has identified 20 areas which will have an impact on society by 2020. They include:

  • Global Connectivity – In 2010, the number of mobile subscribers reached 4 billion. By 2020, there could be as many as 50 billion devices connected to one another.
  • Less Choice – Fewer choices provide higher levels of satisfaction, and consumers are making a trade-off between variety and cost, with cost winning. As Asian consumers set the global trends, society will become focused on less variety not more.
  • Asian Euro – The introduction of a broad‐basket ACU (Asian Currency Unit) as the third global reserve currency will provide the world with the opportunity to balance economic influence and trade more appropriately.
  • Virtual Authenticity – Virtual identity and physical identity are not the same thing; they differ in ways that we are only beginning to take on board. By 2020, this difference will disappear.
  • Dense Cities – As urban migration increases globally, seen through the lens of efficiency, more densely populated cities such as Hong Kong and Manhattan are inherently more sustainable places to live than the spread-out alternatives found in the likes of Houston and Mexico City.
  • Open Access – Access to information is the great leveller. As we become more comfortable sharing our search histories and locations, more relevant information will be provided more quickly and the power of innovation will shift to the public.
  • Less Energy – The days of “easy energy” are over. However, as CO2 capture yields no revenues without government support, global emissions will only be reduced by fundamental changes in behaviour … by all of us using less energy.
  • Feeding the World – We are in a world of paradox where a growing portion of the developed world is obese at the same time as 15 per cent of the global population is facing hunger and malnutrition. Technology to improve food yield will be accelerated to balance supply and demand.
  • Food Markets – In the next decade, the world economics of food will change and food will change the economics of the world. Decisions on where and what to produce will be made on a global basis, not by individual market or geography.
  • Global Pandemics – Between now and 2020, we’re likely to see between two and three global pandemics. These will arise in areas that do not have the top tier of preventative or public health infrastructure and will rapidly spread to developed Western countries.
  • Chinese train travel – China is now the pacesetter for change in inter‐urban transport and is investing over $1 trillion in expanding its rail network to 120,000 kilometres by 2020 — the second largest public works program in history. China is rapidly reshaping its landscape around train services.
  • Slow Luxury – The luxury market buyers increasingly want “better, not more.” They will move away from “bling” to items that are visually more discreet and will increasingly want to position themselves as being more responsible.
  • Homogenous Identity – We’re likely to move more quickly and more widely towards an integrated identity for work and social interaction. We will no longer compartmentalise our lives but the integrated “me” and “you” will be how we see each other and interact.
  • Digital Money – Money is the means of exchange that is most immediately subject to the pressure of rapid technological change. Digital money transfer via mobile phones will be the default by 2020.
  • Zero Waste – Global waste production is predicted to double over the next 20 years. Much of this will be due to increased urbanisation and emerging economic growth. A shift towards the zero-waste society is a desperate global need that will accelerate in the next decade.
  • Water Wars – Today, more than 6.6 billion people share the same volume of water that 1.6 billion did 100 years ago. As population and economies grow and diets change, we need more of this scarce resource. This will be the decade that we fight wars over water, not oil.
  • Flattening world – As income increases in India, China, Brazil and elsewhere, growth in demand for skilled services will occur disproportionately in these emerging economies. Combined with more global networks, this will lead to income stagnation in “established” economies.
  • Commoditised Knowledge – Education will become increasingly industrialised — broken into small, repeatable tasks and thus increasingly deskilled. As a consequence, the industrialisation of information work is certain, and this will affect pretty much every business.
  • Global Tele-health – The drive towards personalised treatments will be matched by a greater focus on prevention. By delivering healthcare content to the individual’s handset, mobile technology can help to maintain wellness.
  • Urban Poverty – The nature of economic activity in cities seems to be leading to a greater degree of urban poverty as in-migration and the move to the knowledge society favours the educated and the nimble. This will widen the gap between the rich and poor.

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